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Tom Jackson has some good advice for #Broncos’ linebackers: ‘Practice hard. Play hard.’

When Tom Jackson favorably compares the ‘pretty darn good’ linebackers of the current team to his ‘marvelous’ Orange Crush defense, you know this Broncos D is good.

Tom Jackson, a versatile linebacker for Denver’s iconic Orange Crush defense in the 70s and 80s, told Phil Milani this week that he never put a lot of stock into awards - until the Broncos started giving the “Most Inspirational Player” award.

Naturally “TJ” won it several years in a row.

“I like to think I put everything I had, not only into the way I played but by the way I practiced,” Jackson said, while being featured this week in Denver’s “Legends of the Game” series. “I practiced really hard. I took a lot of pride in getting my teammates to play their best. That [award] means something to me because that was given by my teammates.”

Jackson - a member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, amassed 44 sacks and 20 interceptions on his way to three Pro Bowls and appearing in two Super Bowls - will unfortunately not be in the Hall of Fame. But he was a key member of a defense that should go into the Hall of Fame as an entire unit, along with its architect, Joe Collier.

In fact, it’s Collier whom Jackson credits for moving him to weak side linebacker so he could use his speed to both rush the QB and drop into coverage.

“I liked to think I was good against the run even though I was undersized. I could rush the passer and was pretty good in coverage as well,” Jackson said, recalling that after his rookie year Collier told him he was moving him from middle linebacker to the interior. “I was just so happy because I was getting beat up so bad.”

Jackson, who is humble in his description of his role on the Orange Crush defense, is more than happy to brag about the unit itself.

“It was pretty darn good. We felt like we could not be beaten,” he said. “There were moments when we were not only the defense but the offense as well. We developed a skill to get a turnover, and we’d say, ‘Once we get the ball, let’s score.’ People would see us lateral the ball to each other and find a way to get to the end zone. It was a great unit. It was a marvelous, marvelous unit, as good a defense that’s ever played.”

But Jackson, who went on to become an ESPN analyst following his 14-year career in Denver, has remained a huge fan of the Broncos - and especially its defenses.

“They’re pretty darn good. They’re a good unit,” Jackson said specifically of the linebackers.

But, of course, there’s one who stands above.

“Von ...I would have liked to be like him when I was playing. He’s got all the gifts,” Jackson laughed. “He’s supremely talented. He’s an outstanding leader. He takes responsibility for that side of the ball and plays his best in the biggest moments. Not much more you can ask than that. I’m a huge admirer.”

A different current linebacker who has exhibited some of the same tenacity on the field as Jackson - Alexander Johnson - had a similar game/practice perspective as No. 57 too.

“I love playing ball. I’m going to go out there and try and do the best I can do, do my job right and have fun and bring a lot of enthusiasm,” Johnson said last week. “Where I can take my game, you always can take your game higher. Whatever goals I had made or accomplished last year, I just want to keep increasing and being a better player for the team.”

Of course Johnson aims to achieve some personal accolades, but bringing energy to the whole defense - just like Jackson used to do - is his main priority.

“If you’re playing football and you’re not trying to be a Pro Bowler, why are you playing? That’s my goal to be one of the best in the league,” he said, adding that causing a lot of forced fumbles is another goal. “I want to be one of those guys that can cause a whole lot of fumbles. ...Other than that, just be the best teammate I can be and go out there, have fun and come with a lot of energy.”

Jackson definitely never lacked energy. In fact, it’s pretty easy to imagine Johnson pulling out the “it’s all over fat man” comment to an AFC rival’s coach just like Jackson said to Raiders’ John Madden back in 1977 when the Broncos blew out the then-menacing Oakland Raiders in Oakland.

“Everybody expected us to lose, and we beat em in a blowout,” Jackson recalled of that game. “It was a great moment for us where we realized, ‘OK, we’re finally ready to compete.”

One of his most memorable and historic moments wearing the Orange and Blue came on Monday Night Football in 1984 when Broncos hosted the Packers during a November blizzard.

On the first play of the game, the Packers fumbled, Jackson scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown - his first NFL touchdown. The Packers fumbled again on their second play of the game, and this time it was Louis Wright’s turn to run it in for a score.

“A fun, fun game,” he said.

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